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There is a company I adore and working there would be my dream job. My plan was to continue working on my programming skills (which are currently underdeveloped) and then start contributing to this company's open source projects in hopes of getting their attention.

I ran into them at a conference, they asked for a sample of my work, and now they have asked me to come by the office "for a chat and a coffee." It looks like they are interested in hiring me, but I'm afraid that if they test my programming knowledge I will fail and ruin my chances with this company.

If they do express interest in hiring me, should I explain to them that my skills are not very advanced yet and that I may not be ready to work for them? Is there something else I can do to keep from ruining my chances with this company?

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This is a good question and an interesting situation at that! Welcome to the site, good luck! –  RhysW Feb 25 at 10:59
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This might be a case of the reverse Dunning-Kruger effect. –  gerrit Feb 25 at 14:16
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@gerrit Imposter Syndrome? –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Feb 25 at 23:27
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They wouldn't offer if they didn't see potential. Sometimes businesses are more interested in people who have potential than people who are already experts. In a way, it's like them making a kind of investment for the future. –  Pharap Feb 27 at 3:14
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Good developers are so frustratingly hard to find that it's worth it for most companies to invest strongly in making their own, if they see someone who shows signs of being one in the future. Heck, I'd have you round for an interview just based on the fact that some other company has shown that much interest. If we/they can get you in as an intern, it's a chance to nab you while you're cheap, teach you everything you need to know, and hopefully keep you once you are an expensive superstar. –  buildsucceeded Feb 28 at 15:35
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6 Answers

Here's what you should do:

RUN WITH IT

What you shouldn't do is lie, exaggerate or in any other way give them the impression that you're something you aren't. This does not mean you have to be self deprecating or display a lack of self confidence. You simply need to be honest, upfront - engage with them and tell them you respect them highly as a company and that you're aware of how much you need to learn.

They are the best judge of what (and who) they want in their team and, right now, you don't know why they're interested. Perhaps they simply think you'll fit in well and have the ability to learn.

Either way - you know how some people seem to be "lucky"? Well, here's the secret - often it simply comes down to them being confident enough to grab the opportunities they see. I know of so many people who let themselves be left behind due to a lack of confidence or an unwillingness to step outside of their comfort zone.

Don't be that person, because no matter which way the conversation goes you'll have met someone new and they'll have met you. They'll know your name and one day, even if not now, that may just well land you a break.

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Exceptionally good answer, well worth the votes it is getting –  RhysW Feb 25 at 11:15
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Good answer. If they have already seen a sample of your work, then they must have some idea of your abilities. Go in with confidence in your abilities, and with confidence in their abilities to pick a winner. –  Joe Strazzere Feb 25 at 11:49
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Plus, if they believe you are an excellent fit for their company, they will provide the training you need in order to fulfil the potential they see in you, either via online courses, or by pairing you with a mentor. Either way, you will get the benefit of working for your dream company while being trained by them ;) –  Laf Feb 25 at 15:57
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@Laf's point is important: some companies will hire the person rather than just their skills or just their qualifications to sit in a particular chair. You may be an excellent fit to their culture and that gives you a leg up on someone who is more skilled than you but not a cultural fit. –  Wayne Feb 25 at 17:49
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Spot on about luck. A UK psychologist has investigated the phenomenon of luck and grabbing opportunities is one of the key ways to "getting lucky": richardwiseman.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/the_luck_factor.pdf –  Matthew Lock Feb 26 at 2:42
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I applied for a job which I had no hope of getting (programmer). To my surprise they invited me for an interview. After the interview, they made a job for me there and then on the spot. Telling me I was under developed for the job I had applied for, but not for the one they made me. They made me a junior programmer and have since been training me to work in the role I originally wanted.

My point is this follows something I say on most posts like this: "If they want you, they will get you."

Calling you in for a chat might mean two things;

1: They may just want a chat with you and to get a judge of you and see if you are worth keeping in contact for future

2: (the best option) they may want to do with you what happened with me.

Its better for a company to keep you around and train you up to help them if they see potential in you rather than let you go to a rival or the like.

--edit--

When I had my interview, I just answered the questions as honest as I could. For example I told him I had experience with the programming languages I was asked about (which is true I did from uni) but that I was not an expert. Just be open and honest. Thing I found helped me most was to do my research. After I researched the company I was genuinely impressed with them and managed to get that across in the interview by talking about their work and how impressed I was etc. Get that across and it will help in your favor (telling them you admire them etc). Never a bad thing to sound over keen

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Happened to me too. I explained that I lacked the skills but was eager to learn. They gave me probation and trained me. It happens all the time in software engineering - there are tons of little bugs to be fixed, which doesn't require a lot of skill, so having a junior programmer do it saves them a lot of money, as the senior programmers never run out of things to do. Everyone hiring for software engineering knows that all skills can be learned, and most people are expected to abandon old skills when the technology changes. It's just about whether you're willing to pick it up. –  Muz Feb 25 at 11:22
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+1 Especially in IT, things are changing so rapidly that having someone trainable and able to learn quickly may be a more valuable investment than getting someone trained but not well adaptable. –  tohecz Feb 27 at 1:17
    
I like how you used an example there. –  itcouldevenbeaboat Feb 27 at 14:48
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Don't be afraid to acknowledge your shortcomings, but don't let them stop you from trying anyway. Knowledge and experience aren't the only factors in hiring decisions. Depending on the size and hiring policies of the company, they might choose a candidate who's trainable and complements their team's chemistry over someone who's well-qualified but difficult to work with.

My educational background is more in the natural sciences than engineering, so I was at a bit of a disadvantage when I applied for my current position. I couldn't answer some of the questions I was asked during a technical interview, but I ended up being hired despite being underqualified (at least on paper).

My supervisor later confided in me that my demeanor during the interview process had been substantially more mature than those of the other candidates. That--plus my willingness to be put into a "sink-or-swim" situation with regards to acquiring the experience I needed--made me the most appealing candidate.

Ultimately, the company can always teach you the technical skills you'll need for the role they have in mind. They can't teach you to have a better personality or work ethic.

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This. The companies I've enjoyed working for the most explicitly hire for fit, not skill: If you're a good fit for the company's culture and people, your skills are worth their time and effort to develop. –  Dan J Feb 26 at 1:59
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I was hired for an internship position, despite me admitting that I didn't think I would be a good fit based on my insufficient skillset. Maybe my anecdote may help you, and I'll try to explain it:

During the phone interview in which the job responsibilities and the technical skills desired were discussed in detail, after answering some questions about how I would approach things, I felt as if my answers were based on a narrower field of experience (I listed technologies with which I was comfortable, and using them in that scenario would have been a stretch.)

At about the halfway point through the phone interview, I freely admitted that my primary background and experience was not in that technical area, and although it interested me and I knew I could succeed given time to learn, I probably was not the most qualified candidate (for that position.) I said that if that was a dealbreaker, then I wouldn't be offended if they cut the interview process short; but expressed enthusiasm that, if that was not the case, I'd like to continue. Not only did we continue the interview process, but I was eventually offered the position.

Mind, this was for an internship so I think the lack of experience might have been expected, but the following applies to positions of all kinds:

As it turns out, some software companies have gotten fantastic at training new employees, and what they seek are people who can ramp up quickly. There are many companies which use technologies that aren't very common, so they have to teach 90% of their developers how to use those technologies anyway.

Your initiative to improve, without anyone coercing you, before applying to a position at that company speaks well of your desire to learn and your work ethic. Your desire to contribute to their open source projects shows enthusiasm in something they care about (i.e. open source software). If you are bright on top of that, you might be exactly what they're looking for.

The takeaway is that you should be honest about:

  1. Your technical ability
  2. Your enthusiasm for the work
  3. Your willingness to learn if you presently lack all of the technical skills required

And you should carry yourself with:

  1. Confidence (not cockiness - know what you can do and don't doubt it)
  2. Cheerfulness (be happy to be there, happy to meet them, happy to learn about the company, happy to talk about tech, happy to get coding questions)
  3. Composure (know no fear, be not perturbed)

Also: you should not discredit yourself at any point. It's one thing to admit inexperience, but don't imply that you're incompetent or incapable, because you're obviously not! If you don't get the position, apply again later!

(Besides, real-world experience will definitely increase your programming skill to the point you wanted very quickly.)

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+1 "(Besides, real-world experience will definitely increase your programming skill to the point you wanted very quickly.)" In my 5 month intern I think I learned more than in my 3 years program –  im_a_noob Feb 27 at 23:15
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I'm a manager; I do hiring regularly. If you would tell me what you just posted, I would either hire you for a position I can - or note your name for the next hiring.

So, don't be ashamed but GO FOR IT!

You would always regret not trying it - way more than a possible rejection (note, I didn't use the word 'failure').

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this does not seem to add anything substantial over what have been written and explained in prior answers –  gnat Feb 26 at 10:41
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It actually does: being this concerned shows how you love the company and how you are preparing for the interview. This alone could get you the job. –  Spidey Feb 26 at 22:00
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Hi Erik, we're looking at a little more than just blind advice in our posts. Instead, provide an explanation as to why this is the best solution and how the asker might approach the situation. Perhaps include a brief example scenario to help back up your claims. Hope this helps. –  jmort253 Feb 27 at 14:50
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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

Go and chat with them, and be honest about your ability. If they like your personality and attitude, they will invest the time and teach you. For our programmer positions, we hire based on attitude and being a great fit with the other people in the department.

In fact, that's how I got the job. I didn't have any programming background at all, just some web design background. I learned all my programming on the job. I was stressed out about it, but I worked evenings and weekends to learn as much as I could in the beginning. The company took a chance, and I've with the company for over 6 years in this position.

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this does not seem to add anything substantial over what have been written and explained in prior answers –  gnat Feb 26 at 19:51
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... why? This doesn't really explain why at all and is merely anecdotal evidence at best. –  enderland Feb 26 at 21:12
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This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post - you can always comment on your own posts, and once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post. –  kolossus Feb 27 at 4:34
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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

protected by Kasra Rahjerdi Feb 27 at 14:51

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